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Film on Climate Activist Brings Direct Action to MT Documentary Festival

Ken Ward and four other climate activists took action into their own hands on Oct. 11, 2016, and shut down pipelines in four states. ("The Reluctant Radical")
Ken Ward and four other climate activists took action into their own hands on Oct. 11, 2016, and shut down pipelines in four states. ("The Reluctant Radical")
February 22, 2018

MISSOULA, Mont. — In October 2016, five climate activists shut down oil pipelines by hand in a coordinated effort across four states, stopping about 15 percent of the country's oil imports for nearly a day.

The film "The Reluctant Radical" is about one of those activists, Ken Ward. And it has been nominated for best feature documentary at this week's Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.

Ward shut off an emergency valve of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which delivers Canadian tar sands to Washington state. He has been part of other protests to stop climate change, but said a big action like this was needed.

"We're at the edge of an abyss. We're in a last-stage crisis, so we need everything,” Ward said. “I think that the kind of action that we undertook is little used, however, and so I think we need a lot more of that. I think that it is more powerful than lower-risk protests, but I think both are important."

Ward was arrested and charged with second-degree burglary, but was only sentenced to two days in jail.

Another one of the so-called valve turners, Leonard Higgins, shut off a pipeline in Montana. In November, he was found guilty of trespassing and criminal mischief but has not yet been sentenced.

Lindsey Grayzel directed the documentary and said her goal was to paint an authentic picture of Ward, including the difficult parts of his life. In the end, she said she found Ward's story to be an inspiring one.

"This is a film that shows, really, how difficult it is to stand firm in your beliefs, even when the rest of society is not paying attention,” Grayzel said. “And I have deep admiration for all the valve turners."

She and three other filmmakers were arrested for documenting Ward's actions in October 2016. Charges against them have since been dropped.

Ward said it was strange watching himself as the focus of the movie - quipping he wishes he'd shaved a little more during its filming. He said he believes the personal approach of this documentary could inspire people to fight climate change.

"I don't think that dry writing about policy was working,” he said. “So I was willing to, on my end, try to open my personal life and personal story because that might be more effective. It might be a more effective story."

"The Reluctant Radical" is screening at the MCT Center for the Performing Arts Thursday at 6 p.m. and Wilma Theater on Friday at 1 p.m.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT